By Hayley Haldeman
I first learned of United Way’s Be a Middle School Mentor program five years ago, when I was new to United Way. While I heard much about the vast scope of its programs and impact, I was curious to see, first hand, how United Way implemented programming.
With this in mind, I signed up to become a middle school mentor. To be frank, I was nervous before my first session—uncertain if I would relate or connect with my mentee and aware of the weight of the commitment.
I should not have worried. My last five years as a mentor at Manchester Academic Charter School, located in the Sarah Heinz House in the North Side, have offered some of the most rewarding and enjoyable hours of my community engagement.
I’ve been paired with two different students, including my current mentee, who I’ve been with since 2016. Effervescent and energetic since the sixth grade, she has matured and continued to gain confidence. Our one hour weekly sessions – moderated by a coordinator from United Way’s partner agency Communities in Schools – include structured activities and discussion, while still allowing time for informal fun.
My mentee struggled with grades when we first met. As she learned to trust me, we talked about her classes and interests. She knows that I care, and I will never forget the day she pulled me to her locker to show me her report card, with improvement across all her classes.
Experiences like this show me the unique benefits of mentoring. Separated from the responsibilities of a parent or teacher and limited to one hour a week, our interactions can intensely focus on encouragement, guidance, and building a relationship. Middle school is a precarious age for a child, and the extra source of support can be critical in reducing future drug use, depression, or chronic absenteeism, according to Mentoring.org.
For me, the value of mentoring is profound. Aside from the role I can play in my mentee’s life—and the role that she has played in mine – it has offered insight into the needs of our community. And, as I hoped, I can see how United Way successfully works to address those needs. On top of that, I’ve met a diverse group of fellow mentors who are passionate about their work.
Several students in United Way’s Be a Middle School Mentor program still need a mentor for 2019, and I urge all of you to consider signing up. Mentoring is only one hour a week, at numerous locations throughout Pittsburgh, including the Northside, East End, South Hills, and other convenient neighborhoods.
I recognize that the set weekly commitment of mentoring may not be right for everyone. What we can all do is encourage and facilitate mentoring among our friends, families, and peers. The biggest obstacles that we hear for potential mentors are transportation to/from mentoring –particularly for those who take public transportation – and workplace flexibility. If you are in a position to influence office policy, please consider promoting a carpool or rideshare system, and confirm that employees are encouraged to take the one hour per week to mentor (allowing time for transportation and the extra few minutes when a contentious game of Connect Four runs over).
As a community, we can help more young students grow through mentoring. I hope that we can continue United Way’s good work and take action for the future of our region.